So what happened after the Special Council meeting of February 10, 2020 that called for a “third party investigation”? The meeting where Council, in the form of a G5 vote, decided to put the CAO, Harry Schlange, back to work after the Mayor had placed him on “administrative leave” when serious workplace allegations arose.
If you missed the first part of this series you can read it by clicking this link here.
The Third Party Investigator
From meeting minutes, we know that the Town retained the services of Mr. John Curtis whose website describes him as “a lawyer, mediator, investigator […] whose practice is focused on resolving workplace conflict”.
Despite the claims of Councillor Sharpe’s February 10, 2020 resolution that the CAO was not being investigated or being accused of any misconduct, NewsNow previously reported there was already Staff complaints on file at that time.
The fact that a professional third party investigator such as Mr. Curtis was being brought in indicates that all may not have been fine and dandy at Town Hall as the resolution implied.
The Third Party Investigation Report
Mr. Curtis presented his final investigation report at a Special Meeting of Council on June 4, 2020. The meeting commenced at 5:30 PM and ended at 10:15 PM. The review of the report and debate was nearly five hours in length.
The only open session resolution to come out of the closed portion of the meeting was as follows:
The vote on the resolution was unanimous. But what is interesting is the resolution directs the Mayor, Clerk and importantly, Legal Counsel, to implement recommendations, learned later as being five recommendations, from the investigator.
What Allegations Did The Investigator Look Into?
If you are expecting to read the exact allegations investigated, you will not find them.
Based on the information available before the investigation and the resolution that called for an investigation, it is evident that at least the CAO and the Mayor and/or their actions were investigated.
What the exact allegations against the CAO were, are not known. As for the Mayor, from the February 2020 resolution it was clear that his actions in putting the CAO on administrative leave, were viewed as illegitimate and improper by five of nine Members of Council and therefore up for investigative scrutiny.
Third Party Investigation “Communication”
With the public well aware of what went down in the open session at Council in February 2020 and the reporting in NewsNow, residents expected to learn the important details of the investigation. Council tackled the issue of disclosure about a week later in a closed session, at their June 15, 2020 meeting.
The resolution coming out of the closed session was as follows:
The “G5” vote reared its head once again.
As a result of that vote, the following nondescript statement was posted on the Town’s website late on a Friday afternoon… right before a sunny summer weekend… sandwiched under two other items about splash pads and cooling centres:
Grimsby, ON – On June 4, 2020, Council for the Town of Grimsby convened a Special Meeting to receive and consider a confidential report from Mr. John Curtis who was retained to conduct a workplace investigation.
The investigation stems from incidents that occurred or were alleged to have occurred in 2019 and 2020. Council directed that an independent third-party be retained to investigate and report on any allegations and upon other related matters.
The investigation was confidential and was conducted over a three-month period. On June 4, Mr. Curtis presented his comprehensive confidential report to Council. The report set out five (5) recommendations, all of which were unanimously accepted and adopted by Council. The Town will be proceeding with all the recommendations through its legal counsel.
The investigation has now concluded and neither the Council nor Town staff will be providing any further comment in respect thereof.
Council will work together with staff to ensure that the Town continues to be a safe work environment and that the municipality will strive to be the best that it can be. Council is committed to its vision for the Town and fully supports its CAO, and in implementing the Town’s strategic priorities to ensure that vision is achieved.
The extraneous “safe work environment” and “fully supports its CAO” blurbs coupled with the resolution direction to have the “Mayor, Clerk and Legal Counsel proceed with implementing all the recommendations” of the investigator makes it rather obvious that there was some kind of findings against the CAO.
Unlike other municipalities which have chosen to release redacted versions of these investigative reports (ie. Loyalist Township) or more detailed statements (ie. Tay Valley Township),
the G5 Council did not opt for that. No details on the investigative methods, findings or recommendations were provided, just some scant generic information and feel-good statements.
What About The Mayor And His Actions? And Council’s Action To Reinstate The CAO?
That February 2020 resolution went directly after the Mayor for putting the CAO on administrative leave by casting a shadow as to the appropriateness and legality of those actions. The G5 directed “communication” said NOTHING to address the February 10, 2020 resolution regarding the Mayor’s actions to suspend or “Council’s” actions to put the CAO back to work.
When Councillor Freake brought forth a motion at the November 9, 2020 Committee of the Whole meeting to update Council on the status of recommendations from the investigator, Councillor Bothwell proposed an amendment which would have answered those important questions.
The amended motion asked whether the Mayor followed law and policies in putting the CAO on leave and whether the actions of Council, in putting the CAO back to work, were validated by Mr. Curtis.
Here is the amended motion:
Anyone care to fathom a guess as to how that vote went? Here are the results:
The amended motion was DEFEATED with a G5 vote. With that defeated, the original motion only asking for an update on the recommendations in a closed session was passed unanimously. However, the fact that the amended motion with those two questions from Councillor Bothwell was voted down is telling. As they say “silence speaks volumes”.
Given the facts that the Mayor obtained and followed legal advice, had obligations under law (Occupational Health and Safety Act) and followed HR best practices, this author is of the opinion that his actions in putting the CAO on administrative leave were likely correct.
Conversely, when it comes to the action of Council (in the form of Councillors Dunstall, Kadwell, Ritchie, Sharpe and Vaine) in putting the CAO back into the workplace before a proper investigation, this author is of the opinion that was likely incorrect and perhaps even reckless. You would be hard pressed to find any Human Resources professional or lawyer who thought their choice was a good idea.
Did the G5 follow the words of Tammy Wynette and “Stand By (Their) Man” when it came to the CAO on this serious matter? For the most part, it certainly appears they did.
The “G5” Councillors appeared to have made a major blunder in their handling of the matter, but rather than being accountable for their actions or clear up any conflicting information regarding the Mayor, they voted for silence.
But now, you get to vote on them. This election is your chance to hold politicians accountable, so it is important to do your research, make your decisions and cast your vote.
Disclaimer: This post is a fact-based opinion. Readers are encouraged to shape their own opinions on the issues presented.